Food allergies affect approximately 5% of children and 4% of all adults. These allergies range from producing mild discomfort to the onset of anaphylactic shock. If you suspect that you or your child might have food allergies, or if you’ve already confirmed the presence of an allergy through medical testing, then it’s important to know how to manage your food allergy. With proper management, you can avoid potentially dangerous situations related to your food allergy without significantly altering your lifestyle.
Management for babies
Food allergies are more common in children, and can be difficult to identify in babies who are not yet verbal. There are a few measures you can take that may reduce your child’s chances of developing a food allergy, and/or prevent the possibility of a reaction to previously unknown allergens.
Studies suggest that breastfeeding babies may help reduce the chances that they will develop allergies. Experts in the field recommend anywhere from four months to twelve months of exclusive breastfeeding, though most seem to agree that between four months and seven months is sufficient. After this point, a baby’s digestive system is well enough developed to handle the slow introduction of solid food. In addition, it is unclear how these studies compare to newer baby formulas, as manufacturers strive to make their products more like breast milk.
Delaying the introduction of solid foods may reduce the risks of food allergies, and then they should only be added one at a time. Most pediatricians will recommend only introducing one new food every few days. You may wish to allow as much as a week for some well-known allergens such as milk, eggs and soy to ensure that there are no issues.
Food allergy management in adults and older children
If you suspect a food allergy, the first step should be to have an allergy test done in order to definitively ascertain what is causing the allergic reaction. Keep a log of all of the foods you eat, and let your doctor know which ones seem to be causing the reaction. Your doctor or an allergist will then perform tests using the food item itself, common preservatives used with it, common spices, and other such things that may also be present whenever you have a reaction. This will hopefully show for certain what caused your allergic reaction, but should at least rule out some elements.
Once you’ve confirmed what food you’re allergic to, the easiest way to manage the allergy is to simply avoid the food. While there are medications that can help mitigate the symptoms, they may not continue to be effective indefinitely. Repeated exposure to allergens may cause the allergy to get worse, and may trigger anaphylaxis.
Especially if you have a severe allergy to common food items, such as nuts or wheat, then it is doubtless prudent to prepare your own food at home rather than buy pre-prepared food items from stores, restaurants or delis. There are many different names for various ingredients and their by-products, and you may accidentally ingest something dangerous by eating food that you don’t know firsthand what’s in them.
Probably the most important element of learning how to manage your food allergy is formulating an emergency plan. No matter how careful you are, there’s always the chance of accidental exposure, or that you will have a reaction to a closely-related food or beverage. Make sure that you have the appropriate emergency medicines on-hand, and that your family and close friends also know what to do in case of an emergency.
Food allergies versus intolerance
It is important to know the difference between a food allergy and food intolerance, as they can have very different management strategies and long-term implications. Despite their differences, many people use the terms interchangeably. An allergy occurs when your body has an adverse reaction to some compound or combination within a given food item. Intolerance occurs when, for one reason or another, your body has a difficult time properly digesting and absorbing the food. Though some of the symptoms may be similar between the two, you need to know which you have in order to effectively manage the effects.